WHMIS 2015 and GHS in Canada – Your Guide

WHMIS to WHMIS 2015 – Background

WHMIS is changing! As of February 11, 2015 Canada began to adopt an international standard known as the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). The new regulations are called WHMIS 2015 and their purpose is to help international trade and improve worker safety. WHMIS 2015 aligns Canada with the way chemical hazards are classified and communicated throughout the world.

Standard hazard classification and communication eliminates inconsistencies from country to country and enhances worker safety. Under the GHS, chemicals fall into three main hazard groups: Physical, Health or Environmental. However, WHMIS 2015 only adopts two of these groups namely Physical hazards and Health hazards. To ensure harmonization with the U.S. HCS 2012 Environmental hazards are not included, but environmental information will be required in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). (Safety Data Sheets were formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets MSDS). Adoption of the GHS is a “work in progress” and it is possible that future regulations may include classifications of Environmental hazards.

You will need to be “in the know” about the changes and adjustments needed at your workplace. No matter if you operate a 5 person machine shop in Northern Alberta, or a 5000 employee auto assembly plant in Oakville, you’ll need to comply with the new rules, so here we go:

Why do we have the new WHMIS 2015 standard?

Before the Globally Harmonized System, each country had their own regulations detailing the ways of classifying and handling chemicals. One chemical might be labeled as “Toxic” in one country, and then not labeled at all in another. GHS puts everyone on the same page and it ensures every country classifies chemical hazards in the same way. So no matter where we go in the world we’ll find a consistent and predictable way of identifying chemical hazards and communicating the information to workers. The new WHMIS 2015 adopts the GHS standards, allowing Canadians to streamline hazard communication labeling, and SDS information with the rest of the world.

How does WHMIS 2015 work?

WHMIS 2015 is an internationally consistent chemical hazard classification and communication system. Not only are the hazard classifications the same all around the world, but the way the hazard information is communicated to workers and managers is the same. The main way of communicating chemical hazard information is through labels, and safety data sheets (SDSs).

Labels contain the first level of chemical hazard information workers will see. WHMIS 2015 labels show the name of the material in the container, the kind of hazards it poses, and the measures to be taken for safe use and storage. In the old form of WHMIS, hazards are denoted by symbols or pictograms inside a black “circle” border. The old WHMIS pictograms are changing to adopt the new GHS pictograms. Except for the biohazard symbol, the “circled” borders are disappearing and will be replaced by a red “diamond” shaped border. Some of the old WHMIS symbols such as the “R” for “Dangerously Reactive” and the “Exclamation ‘T’” for “Other toxic Effects” have disappeared. WHMIS 2015 introduces some new symbols. Many countries have adopted all the GHS hazard groups (Physical, Health and Environmental) and use nine different GHS symbols (pictograms). In Canada there will only be eight symbols with red diamond borders since WHMIS 2015 doesn’t include the environmental symbol. However WHMIS 2015 will still keep the old symbol for Biohazardous and Infectious Materials. It is quite distinct from the GHS pictograms. It has a black symbol on a white background inside a black circle border..

Written “Hazard Statements” on the label provide more details of the exact type of hazard. Close to the pictograms, the label shows a “Signal Word” which will be either “Danger” or “Warning”. Signal Words indicate the degree of hazard. “Danger” means the hazard is serious “Warning” means the hazard is less serious.

A WHMIS 2015 label also contains “Precautionary Statements” which tell us what protective measures to take to avoid the hazards. Precautionary statements also give information on basic first aid.

Finally, WHMIS 2015 labels contain the emergency contact information of the chemical manufacturer or distributor.

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The second level of chemical hazard information is the more detailed Safety Data Sheet (SDS). The WHMIS 2015 SDS has 16 main headings. The 16 part format is the same for all countries and all companies. No matter where in the world the SDS comes from the information is arranged under the same headings in the same order. The information informs workers and employers of potential dangers, proper safety precautions, and the regulatory measures to take. Here is an example of a new WHMIS 2015 SDS: (PDF Download)

Of course, labels and SDSs will only be of value if managers and workers are trained to use and understand them. Canada and the USA have regulated employee training, and require it’s completion early on in the transition to the GHS.

In summary the aim of the WHMIS 2015 is to unify the classification of chemicals by their Physical and Health, hazards. A material classified as toxic in China will also be considered toxic in Europe, North America and around the globe. In addition the way the hazards and safety measures are communicated through labels and SDSs will be standardized from country to country.

The adaptation of WHMIS to the GHS has huge advantages for all stakeholders:

 Who is WHMIS 2015 meant for?

  • For chemical Suppliers and Manufacturers WHMIS 2015 helps international trade, making it easier to trade across borders because the hazard communication regulations are largely the same from one country to the next. WHMIS 2015 standardizes hazard and precautionary statements. These standard statements are available in many different languages and will make hazard communication on labels and SDSs consistent and simpler to achieve from one country to another
  • For employers increased safety for employees results in reduced lost time from accidents and disease and reduced compensation costs. Improved productivity is realized by incurring less down time for avoidable injuries and accident investigations. Once implemented, compliance costs for hazard communication will diminish. The consistent use of the WHMIS 2015 will ultimately reduce the cost of training, as older employees come to fully understand the system, and additional training is mostly required for contractors and new hires.
  • For Workers safety will be greatly improved by standardized WHMIS 2015 labels and SDSs to identify chemical hazards and ways to work safely. WHMIS 2015 hazard communication will overcome some previous language barriers.

Becoming WHMIS 2015 compliant.

The best way to stay compliant is to become informed. The Canadian government has lots of information on your specific industry and business type.

INCOM Manufacturing Group also offers WHMIS 2015 compliance products, kits, and training to help you stay on top of upcoming training requirements and regulatory amendments.


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